The advent of the lean startup methodology has proven to be the four-minute mile moment for new players in the IT industry.
This has enabled them to optimize available resources to create maximum impact. It's agile, but it really only addresses the technicalities of building and growing companies, and the emphasis is lost on the people who make it happen. This is precisely why fast-growing IT companies and MSPs face challenges with employee well-being and mental health. This translates to companies not hitting their full operating potential, and high levels of attrition in the long term.
So how do you go about maintaining balanced work culture you ask? Well, we had the same question, and this is what Heather Johnson, COO at Gozynta had to say on SuperPod — The no-filter MSP show.
The mental health conundrum
It's no surprise when you notice how less a crucial concept like mental health is spoken about. Mental health is still perceived as a millennial concept in the IT industry and is simply not practiced as much as it is preached. Heather is a seasoned HR and a great advocate of MSP mental health. While she helped her employees get better at taking control of their well-being, she always thought she never needed the practice. But having pushed herself to the maximum without giving herself a break, she experienced first-hand the kind of impact it had on her health, although she thought it was all good.
I was doing that event at the White House. I had organized a three-day art festival the week, and I did the event at the White House. The day that I got back, organized a trip three-week trip to Asia. I was like I love this. I was ignoring the signs my mind and body were telling me. The day I got back, I thought I was having a heart attack. So I pulled into the emergency care center. And it was a panic attack. I thought, Oh no, I have a panic attack? I like pressure. I know all about self-care. But I realized oh, I'm doing none of it.
The empathy effect
Improving employee productivity, mental wellness, and all the other personal growth metrics starts with empathy. Being empathetic doesn't just apply to difficult situations, rather, it should be imbibed in the culture of the company. Heather talks about the difference it made in her company when she fully understood who they aspire to become in terms of values. When she embedded the values in the handbooks, every conversation and meeting started delivering a lot more value, and then it didn't take much longer for the same values to get reflected in the products and services they offer.
She quotes an incident when an employee who was turned down earlier came back to say that he wanted to work at Gozynta irrespective of the role because he felt connected with the values.
Guess what, he got hired.
So having that culture, you make this environment with very little turnover, you make an environment where your customers are happy. And you make an environment where you get higher talent, because they just want to be part of it. And isn't that great? Like you want everybody to want to come to work every day and feel valued?
Tips and best practices
Now that we've established the need to focus on maintaining a great work culture and balanced mental health practices, here are a few tips and hacks from Heather to help you implement this in your workplace:
- Practice what you preach. Your mental health always comes first.
- Take short breaks to avoid burning out. Take them unapologetically. Avoid your laptop and phone when you're relaxing, and take some short walks to stretch and clear your head. If you're finding it difficult to stick to it, put them on your calendar and set reminders.
- Try to control your caffeine intake over the day. Too much can make you restless and anxious.
- Normalize conversations around mental health—start sharing personal experiences, and let people know that it's a safe space to talk about mental health. Encourage your peers to share their experiences frequently, and make it a part of your culture to pass down.
It takes time to build a great work culture that's empathetic to your employees and their mental well-being. The key is to stay patient, consistent, and kind; and everything else will eventually fall into place.